How to Train Your Dog to Eat by Himself

Medium
1-4 Weeks
General

Introduction

There is nothing worse than a dog who refuses to eat on his own. When you have a "fussy" pup, it can feel as though you have little to no control over when he eats, how much he eats, or for that matter when he eats. When your pup is little, hand feeding him might be okay, but you need to get past this point as quickly as possible to ensure you have more control over his eating habits as well as his potty habits.

There is a controversy over which is better: "free feeding", in which there is always food in your dog's bowl that allows him to eat whenever he feels like it or "meal feeding", where you establish specific meal times when your dog is expected to eat. There are good and bad points for both types of feeding styles. and most vets recommend you put your dog on a feeding schedule. Not only does this help to establish you in the dominant role, but it also makes it much easier for you to observe his eating habits and how much he is or isn't eating.

Defining Tasks

As a human being, you are used to eating on a relatively set schedule of three meals a day. While your dog may not need three meals a day, it is important for him to know when he is supposed to be eating and to do so at that time. Here in the U.S., we face a growing epidemic of human obesity and at the same time, there is a growing problem with canine obesity. By taking full control of when your dog eats and how much he eats, you can help prevent this from happening to your furry friend.

Another beautiful thing about teaching your dog to eat by himself at set times is that this can help to regulate his bowel movements. The big thing to remember is that you are teaching your dog to recognize when it is meal time and that he doesn’t have time to waste once you put the bowl down in front of him. Bear in mind that if you allow your dog to "free eat" or "graze" it could take several days before you realize he is not eating properly.

Getting Started

You won't need a ton of supplies to get started training your dog to eat by himself. The most important thing to remember is that it can take a little while for your pup to make the switch from being hand fed to eating out of his bowl when it is meal time. You will need:

  • A food bowl: Every dog needs his own food bowl.
  • Food: Stock up on the food you plan to feed him.
  • Treats: You will need some way to reward your dog for getting things right.
  • Patience: it takes time to train your dog to learn to eat on his own when it is dinner time.
  • The right place: To make this training more successful, you need to have a specific spot to put his food dish every time. Placing it in different places will only lead to confusion and problems with getting him to eat.
  • Praise: You can never give your pup too much praise when he gets new training right.

The Count to Five Method

Effective
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Step
1
Invitation
Start by asking your dog, "Are you hungry?"
Step
2
First course
Place half the amount of food you want your dog to eat daily in his bowl.
Step
3
Serve it up
Hold the bowl in front of his nose and then place it in the special spot reserved for his bowl.
Step
4
Countdown
Count to five, if he starts eating let him finish and give him plenty of praise.
Step
5
Wait for later
If not, pick up the bowl and wait for 12 hours before trying again.
Step
6
Try again
Repeat the process in another 12 hours until he eats on his own each time you place his bowl on the floor. Be sure to give him tons of praise each time he eats until the process becomes a routine.
Recommend training method?

The Sit First Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Dish it up
Pour your dog's food into his bowl and raise it over his head.
Step
2
Sit
Command your dog to sit.
Step
3
Serve
Place bowl in front of him on the floor. If he begins to eat, praise him.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat this process until each time you put his food in front of him he eats.
Recommend training method?

The Eat on Command Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Dish it up
Fill your pup's bowl with food.
Step
2
Dinner bell
Give your dog the ‘come’ command, assuming he didn't come running at the sound of food being poured into his bowl.
Step
3
Table manners
Have your dog sit and slowly lower the food dish to the ground in front of him. If he tries to get to the bowl before it hits the ground, raise it back up and make him sit again.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat until your dog sits and waits patiently until you place the bowl on the ground. Then give him the command ‘eat’ or ‘Okay’. His reward will be his dinner along with plenty of praise.
Step
5
Be consistent
Follow this exact same process each time you feed your dog and he will soon come to understand when it is dinner time and that this is the only time he will be allowed to eat. At this point, you should be able to put the bowl down and walk away while he eats by himself.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Bear
Pug
4 Years
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Question
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Bear
Pug
4 Years

I have a few questions regarding training. Bear is a rescue and as such seems to have separation anxiety. He won't eat on his own. He requires you to be outside and beside the bowl. What us the best approach to letting him know if we feed him outside we will come back very shortly

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
614 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ben, If he is a recent rescue this may sort itself out with a bit of time. Right now his anxiety is high in general and dogs won't eat when highly stressed - to get a dog to eat you have to decrease the stress enough. Being out there with him is one way to do that. Bringing him inside and feeding him inside a locked crate once he is crate trained is another way to do that. overall the goal is to build his confidence and deal with the root of the anxiety. Practicing confidence building exercises with him, adding more structure and mental stimulation to his life can decrease anxiety, and desensitizing him to being outside alone is another. I would feed him in a locked crate and while outside with him for the moment. At the same time though work on getting him used to being outside alone. Leave him outside and whenever he is calm, go outside to him and pretend to get something done out there while ignoring him. If he will take treats then, sprinkle a few treats on the ground, then go back inside without making a big deal of it. Repeat this every time he gets really calm (or quiet if he tends to cry while out there). Do not reward barking and anxious behaviors though. Add more structure to his routine, work on teaching things like a structured heel, Place command, crate manners, thresholds, ect...to build confidence, establish trust and respect in your relationship, increase impulse control and calmness, give more predictability to his routine, and stimulate him mentally. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Crate manners: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-the-crate/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo If he is generally a bit nervous, then some confidence building exercises may also help his overall attitude. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elvtxiDW6g0 Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Violet
Boston Terrier
8 Weeks
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Question
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Violet
Boston Terrier
8 Weeks

We’ve had our puppy for about a week now and she’s doing a great job potty training etc my question is when I feed her how long should I leave her bowl down before I pull it? It’s been down about 20 minutes should I pull it until the next feeding time?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
614 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jennifer, First, since she is so young and probably easily distracted, I would feed her in a quiet, confined area and be sure she knows that it's there. Such as in her crate or in a quiet bedroom if she doesn't normally start eating right away when there are distractions. When feeding her in a quiet area, if she hasn't touched the food within 30 minutes, I would remove it and try again later. Because she is so young and young puppies have more sensitive blood sugar, I would actually give her a dog food stuffed chew toy to work on between meals if she doesn't eat. This conditions her to think that her food will be removed so she had better eat when fed, but prevents a blood sugar drop. Really at this age my favorite thing to do is to feed puppies all of their breakfast via a dog food stuffed hollow chew toy, to teach chew toy training, help prevent barking habits, entertain puppies, and prevent separation anxiety. When you do feed via a bowl, I would give 30-40 minutes at this age, then remove it. When puppy is an adult I normally give 15 once they are trained, but a young puppy needs more leniency. At this age pup also probably needs to eat three times a day still too, but consult your vet on those types of matters. I am not a vet. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Zombie
Mutt
8 Weeks
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Question
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Zombie
Mutt
8 Weeks

I rescued two pups at the age of 5 or so weeks and they have been waiting together ever scince. But now I want them to eat separately and Zombie wont even touch his food. I'm not sure what I should do, they have both been eating dry kibble for at least 2 weeks now do I know he likes the food.They are Husky boarder collie mixes

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
614 Dog owners recommended

Hello Cassidy, There are a few things you can try: 1. Try feeding them in separate locked crates so that they feel more secure about not having to watch their back or protect their food. This is more effective if they are already crate trained so will relax in the crate. Either way, feed in a calm location. 2. Try adding a topper to the kibble, such as a little goat's milk or a freeze dried meal topper. For the milk or freeze dried pieces, crush the freeze dried pieces up into powder, place pup's food into a ziplock bag with the powder and let it sit like that for at least an hour or overnight. For the goat's milk, place the food in a bag with a little milk and shake the bag until the milk lightly coats the food. When pup will eat again, you can very gradually over a month, decrease milk or powder amount until you are back to just kibble again. 3. Don't leave food sitting out all the time. Put food down several times a day for 15-30 minutes in a calm location, like a crate with pup, then remove food again if pup has not started to eat it. Most puppies will need to eat 3 times a day at this age so food needs to be placed down at least 4 times until pup learns to eat every time it's offered, then you can go back down to 3 times, and eventually 2 times when pup is a little older. Placing food down and picking back up teaches pup to eat when it's offered instead of picking at it and waiting to eat. 4. Have pup work for food instead of using a bowl. Use the kibble as treats during training and socialization, and stuff hollow chew toys like Kongs, with the food and have pup work to get food out while in a crate or during other down times. You can also place the food in a bowl, cover it with water, let it sit out until it turns to mush, mix a little peanut butter (No Xylitol - It's toxic to dogs), liver paste, or bit of cheese into the mush, very loosely stuff the hollow toy, and freeze it overnight in a ziplock bag. You can make several of these ahead of time and grab from the freezer as needed and give to pup while resting in a crate - so that he is working to get the food out and learning good chewing habits, calmness, and self-entertainment. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rocky
Golden Retriever
2 Years
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Question
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Rocky
Golden Retriever
2 Years

He is not eating by himself,
He only was pure milk,
If we put something infront of him he tries to flip the Bowl.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
614 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mayank, First, will pup eat when you hand feed or not at all unless its only milk? If pup won't eat in other ways too, like hand feeding, I highly suggest a trip to your vet to rule out a medical cause, like a dental issue, infection, virus, or allergy. I am not a vet. If pup simply doesn't want the food in a bowl, I suggest purchasing a kibble topper like Stella and Chewy freeze dried meal topper, crushing that into a powder, adding that to a baggie with pup's kibble and letting it sit overnight, then feeding meals out of that scented food in the morning. You can also try feeding pup something like Ziwi Peak - which is an already prepared freeze dried type dog food, if cost isn't prohibitive. I suggest crate training pup and feeding pup in a locked, quiet crate.Leave pup in the crate for 1 hour with the food. If pup doesn't touch it, let pup out and try again at lunchtime. Repeat this process for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and before bed. Removing access to the food between those times. Consult your vet about how long is safe to let pup go without them eating in relation to pup's individual needs and health. Some dogs can't go longer than one skipped meals, other may be able to handle 3 days before getting hungry enough they start to eat normal meals again. Depend on your vet's insight for that area. I am not a vet. Once pup is eating well at meals, go back to just breakfast and dinner meals. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Tina
Chihuahua
14 Years
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Question
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Tina
Chihuahua
14 Years

Hi, I have a fussy senior dog. She is underweight and also on a prescription canned food for her chronic kidney disease. She needs to gain weight but will only pick at her food a bite or a lick at a time. To make things more complicated, I have a cat that likes to take advantage and eat her food when she leaves it so free feeding is not an option. We started trying to feed her inside her crate so the cat can’t steal it but now Tina has made a game of wanting to go in and out of her crate constantly to pick at her food. If I leave her in she just cries and falls asleep eventually, still not eating her food. If I let her out she walks around the room and then goes back and paws at the door to be let back in with her food. I have tried adding all kinds of treats to entice her to eat faster but she gets bored of them quickly and goes back to picking at her food after a day or so. I’ve also tried giving her a high value treat when she does manage to finish a bowl but it happens so rarely that there’s not much reinforcement. Any help with training or suggestions you have would be much appreciated! Thank you!

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
65 Dog owners recommended

Thank you for the question about Tina. You do have a dilemma with a dog who doesn't want to eat and a cat who does! Have you spoken to the vet? Perhaps there is another flavor or brand of prescription canned food that Tina can try that may be more palatable. When you talk to the vet, see if feeding Tina small servings at intervals throughout the day is suitable for a dog who has chronic kidney disease. Sometimes warming up the food will make it more aromatic and appealing (just be very careful that it's not hot). As well, a small appetite may be normal for a small senior dog with a chronic illness. I would chat with the vet, have Tina checked out, and go from there. Good luck!

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Question
Buzo
spitz
6 Years
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Question
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Buzo
spitz
6 Years

My dog dont eat by himself.He always want to me to feed him.But i want him to eat by himself.Please help me. And i want to tell you he is vegetarian

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
614 Dog owners recommended

Hello Anubha, First, I strongly suggest speaking with your vet about pup's diet. Make sure that pup can get what they need without eating meat and isn't becoming deficient. You have to be a lot more careful to meet all pup's needs when not feeding meat. Dogs have different needs than humans and you and your vet need to determine whether his needs are being met diet-wise. If they are not, that might be part of the issue with him not eating. I am not a vet though. Taste can also be a reason pup refuses food while on a vegetarian diet. You may need to at least temporarily include meat to help pup make the transition to a bowl, then once pup is used to eating out of a bowl, you can gradually decrease the amount of meat present overtime until pup will continue eating out of the bowl with their usual food due to habit. You can also try feeding pup in multiple small portions to increase food drive. Put 1/5 of pup's food in a bowl and feed, then take the bowl and add the next 1/5, and so forth, so that pup is eating in courses and it's more fun and less overwhelming amount wise. As pup improves, slowly feed more food at each portion and less portions, until pup is just getting one serving of food at the meal, put down once. If you don't want to use meat to flavor food, a bit of goats milk can be used temporarily. Adding the goat's milk to pup's food can help flavor the food enough for some dogs to enjoy it, then slowly decrease the amount of milk added as pup gets used to eating out of the bowl. Use goat's milk, not cows milk because it is less inflammatory and easier to digest than cow, and always check with your vet about your dog's specific health situation and what changes to diet are appropriate before changing things. I am not a vet. Finally, a bit of cheese or peanut butter powder can be added to a ziplock bag with pup's food in it and let to sit together overnight to flavor the food. In the morning, feed pup their meals out of that flavored food, and gradually decrease the amount of powder used overtime as pup adjusts to meals in the bowl. Feed pup in a quiet, distraction free environment as well. Especially one that is away from other dogs, where pup may feel the need to guard the food, instead of relaxing enough to eat. A crate can even be a good place to feed if pup is crate trained. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bdudy
Labrador Retriever
5 Years
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Question
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Bdudy
Labrador Retriever
5 Years

He is 5 years old and he don't want to eat his meals himself.He always needs a person who took his bowl and ran behind him. What will I do that he start eating himself?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
65 Dog owners recommended

Hello and thanks for the photo. Is this a new behavior? If so, a vet visit is necessary to rule out a medical issue. Other possibilities are that the food does not agree with him or is not palatable. Check the serving size on the bag to make sure that you are feeding Buddy the right amount of food and not too much. Ask the vet if it is okay to add a little low sodium broth to the food to entice him to eat. Maybe he prefers to grace throughout the day. Feed him a good quality dry food if you are not already, but leave it down so that he can graze at will. Make sure that his eating area is not too busy - sometimes a quiet area is best. If he continues, ask the vet for advice. There could be a sensitivity to something in the food and not eating it is a way of feeling better and letting you know.Good luck!

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